the woman king – marketing recap

How Sony has sold a period drama about African warriors.

the woman king poster from Sony Pictures
the woman king poster from Sony Pictures

Viola Davis stars in this week’s The Woman King, in theaters this week from Sony Pictures. Davis plays General Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie, an all-female group of guardian warriors in the kingdom of Dahomey. Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch and Sheila Atim costar as the latest generation of warriors to be trained by Nanisca, with John Boyega as the nation’s king. The Agojie must be trained to help fight against the latest threat to their people: The expansion of French colonizers deeper into the African continent.

If the concept of the Agojie sounds familiar, it’s because the real life defenders were the inspiration for the Dora Milaje in Christopher Priest’s “Black Panther” comics run, a group that of course later appeared in several installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the movie was written by Dana Stevens, who developed the story with producer Maria Bello. Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcements and casting

The movie was announced in July, 2020 as Prince-Blythwood’s follow-up to the massively successful The Old Guard on Netflix.

News of Davis’ casting was followed in September 2021 by Boyega joining the project. Lynch was cast shortly after that, right in the middle of her getting rave reviews for her role in No Time To Die. Lawson, Tiffen and others joined shortly after that.

the marketing campaign

Davis offered the first real look at the film in February of this year when she posted a couple stills showing just how fierce she looks in costume.

Both Prince-Blythwood and Davis made an appearance on stage at Sony’s April 2022 CinemaCon presentation to promote their film. Davis was also given the event’s first-ever Trailblazer Award for her body of work.

A few weeks later Empire Magazine shared a first look still from the film.

Prince-Blythewood talked about the movie when she appeared at the American Black Film Festival in June, with the director debuting the trailer there for the festival’s audience before it went out to the general public.

More photos along with an interview with Davis came in Vanity Fair at the beginning of July.

Also in early July came the first trailer (10.4m YouTube views), which opens with King Ghezo warning of a new evil coming that must be fought with the Agojie. Nanisca convinces the king to fight back against the threat of the Europeans looking to expand their influence. We see the kind of training the Agojie go through and just how effective they are in combat, all of it adding up to a powerful trailer.

Banner ads on YouTube drove people to the film’s official website when the trailer debuted.

the woman king YouTube ad
the woman king YouTube ad

Later that month the announcement came that the movie’s world premiere would happen at the Toronto International Film Festival. Davis was later slated for a conversation as part of the film’s screening at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival in mid-August.

The first poster came out a bit later. It shows Nansica alone with her weapon held high, standing in what seems to be a fiery conflagration blazing all around her.

Bello was interviewed about her love of the African continent and how that played into developing this story.

A short vignette has Davis and Prince-Bythewood talking about the real life warriors portrayed in the film and how they’re surprised they didn’t know more about this before.

Trainer Gabriela Mclain spoke in this interview about how she put each one of the primary cast through their paces in preparation for such physically-demanding roles that required they *look* the part of fearsome warriors.

That training was the subject of another short featurette.

Mbedu was interviewed about the film’s incredible cast and more.

Cutdowns of the trailer started running in late August as TV spots and online promos, including pre-roll ads.

The second poster, released at the end of August, has the entire main cast of characters assembled and staring intensely at the audience amidst the same fiery background seen earlier.

An Essence cover story featured a conversation with the main cast about the story and what it was like working with everyone else. That was followed by a THR cover story with Prince-Bythewood and Davis in part covering the battles they had to take part in just to get the film made for reasons that are likely obvious.

An interview with Lynch focused again on the rigorous training she had to take part in.

Fandango debuted an exclusive clip of Nanisca pushing the warriors she’s training to be better than they ever thought they could be in order to defend their nation.

The bonding the cast underwent during filming was the subject of another short vignette.

That lead into the TIFF premiere screening, which garnered *very* positive reviews and buzz, and the Q&A with the cast and crew that went along with it.

Costume designer Gersha Phillips shared the real life inspiration that went into the costumes along with the fact they were made by actual African artisans.

Another TV spot from the last week featured football coach Jennifer King offering her thoughts on being a warrior along with clips from the film.

Boyega and Atim created Spotify playlists inspired by the film and their characters.

Davis went on to make appearances on “GMA”, “The Tonight Show”, “The View” along with others to promote the film and talk about how unique the story is in today’s marketplace.


It’s not very surprising that there’s little in the way of overt reference to how the real life Agojie inspired the fictional Dora Milaje given the competing studios/companies in play. But that connection is very much there for anyone who’s paying attention.

Outside of that, the major message of the campaign is not only that this is a powerful film about an incredible group of warriors but that the existence of those warriors isn’t as well known in the general public as, say, the 300 Spartan warriors at the Battle of Thermopylae. If you pull on that thread more than a bit you’ll likely discover reasons that include racism, the fact that Europeans are clearly not the good guys in that story and so on.

But the story is being told in a big, bold fashion now and that’s what’s important. And the campaign has been moving, driven by the personal investment of Prince-Bythewood, Davis and others, including Bello, who seems to have taken the smart path and sat out most of the publicity and let others, particularly women of color, take the spotlight.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

As the other movies do, this one gets its own page on, complete with a collection of the posters, teasers, featurettes, photos and more. Blog posts that contain movie material or which highlight related announcements can be found on the page as well.

Media and Press

While we were still in the hype cycle for Episode XIII it was announced that Trevorrow, who’d long been attached to the project, had left. That was two Star Wars movies in row, including the Han Solo one, that had high-profile director shifts. Three if you count how Josh Trank was involved in a movie right up to the point he wasn’t. That firing was apparently a long-time coming and resulted from the director’s own personality issues, which caused tension with producer Kathleen Kennedy, and the fact that unlike on Jurassic World he didn’t have Steven Spielberg around to protect him.

Shockwaves then emanated when it was announced The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams would return for this movie, which was also pushed back from May to December. Later on, as part of the publicity for The Last Jedi, Abrams talked about taking the opportunity to return and close out the trilogy he started.

Isaac and others from the cast talked about the movie while promoting other projects.

A wide-ranging profile of Abrams included his recounting of the unusual sequence of events leading to his rejoining the franchise and his feelings of concern, panic, stress, excitement and more around doing so.

There as a significant press push in the wake of Star Wars Celebration and the debut of the first teaser. That included Abrams revealing Lucas was involved in crafting at least part of the story and Boyega making it clear he didn’t know what the title referred to either.

Abrams and members of the cast appeared on “Good Morning America” shortly after Celebration to talk about the movie and explain (or not) some of what was going on.

Meanwhile, Hamill explained why he has so much fun poking at obsessive Star Wars fans.

As has been the case with every Star Wars movie since 1999’s The Phantom Menace, the publicity cycle included a Vanity Fair cover story featuring exclusive behind-the-scenes photos by Annie Leibovitz. That series of stories offered not only new looks at the cast and sets but also additional details about what the story entails and what fans can expect from the film.

Ridley was interviewed about the emotional moment that was the final day of filming.

Another interview with Abrams in the wake of D23 had the director clarifying that nothing about The Last Jedi was being discarded, nor had that movie upset any plans for the series’ story. So, despite the outcry of disgruntled or disappointed viewers, that movie is still canon. He later shared his thinking on why it was important for Palpatine to return for this movie and more.

EW debuted a first official look at Zorri Bliss, the mysterious character played by Keri Russell. At around the same time Abrams was interviewed about his assurance that the movie would provide a satisfying conclusion to the nine-film epic story and more details were revealed about the watery planet seen in the trailers. Ackie was profiled in an interview about her reaction to joining the Star Wars universe.

In late November EW offered a big cover feature that included a number of other interviews, photos and other inside looks at the movie, with comments from most of the cast and crew. At the same time Rolling Stone ran its own package that included an interview with Kennedy about this movie and the future of the Star Wars franchise as well as another interview with Abrams about the story of the movie.

Late night appearances by the cast and Abrams started in late November as well, with Driver and Russell showing up on “The Late Show” as did Abrams. Ridley and Boyega showed up on “The Tonight Show” while Isaac chatted on “Late Night.” Russell chatted on “The Tonight Show” as well while Tran appeared on “The Daily Show.”

An extended profile of Williams had him talking about the legacy of Lando he still holds tightly to as well as his overall career and coming out of semi-retirement to revisit the character one last time.

An interview with Ridley allowed her to talk about what her plans for self-care are following her involvement in a massive multi-year commitment. Tran finally joined the press effort with an interview making it clear Rose has evolved in the time since the last story. A profile of Daniels included him promising this wasn’t the last you’ve heard of him as C-3PO while a similar interview with McDiarmid allowed him to talk about his expectation that he was done with the character of Palpatine until he got the call.

Abrams talked about the behind the scenes drama that lead to him coming back to the franchise and lots more in this extended profile that included him throwing a little shade at Johnson’s middle installment for being too “meta.” One of the movie’s cowriters spoke about trying to craft a worthy final chapter for the story.

The same night as the movie’s premiere, the whole cast along with Abrams appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to engage in games and more. Lupita Nyong’o, who is always forgotten about when discussing the cast, talked about the movie on “The Daily Show.”

Tran was interviewed about her experiences with Star Wars and more here.


Picking Up the Spare

That mysterious message from the presumed-dead Palpatine that kicks off the events of the movie was revealed in Fortnite, likely because of the promotional tie-in with that game. The movie’s editor explained why that message was cut from the film as well.

Abrams has praised Johnson while trying to downplay any potential bad blood because of the different directions the two directors took.

An interview with Terrio allowed him to dig an even deeper hole regarding the way the story makes Rose Tico into a non-factor.

A new featurette from IMAX has the cast and crew talking about their experiences making the movie. Another video from IMAX has them all sharing their favorite moments from throughout the Star Wars movies while a third has Issac answering fan-submitted questions.

One more TV spot touting the movie’s box-office success.

Second unit director Victoria Mahoney has finally been getting some attention, in part because she’s the first woman to have any directorial duties on a Star Wars feature.

Pacific Rim: Uprising – Marketing Recap

pacific rim uprising poster 10It seems like critics and audiences were genuinely surprised when 2013’s Pacific Rim was as good as it wound up being. But really, what did we expect from a movie about giant machines fighting giant monsters that was directed by Guillermo del Toro? It’s on us that we didn’t see a movie that combined large-scale action with lots of heart and impressive character development. At a time when “visionary” is tossed around all-too-often, del Toro deserves it more than most others.

That the first movie was a financial success made it inevitable a sequel would happen. After a few false starts and commitments to other projects, del Toro bowed out of directing but stays on as a producer for this week’s Pacific Rim Uprising. Set 10 years after the events of the first movie, John Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Alba’s Stacker Pentecost in the original. Jake is reluctant to follow in his father’s military footsteps but when a new threat arises he, along with Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood) and a batch of new recruits to the Jaeger program have to once more fight to cancel the apocalypse.

Continue reading “Pacific Rim: Uprising – Marketing Recap”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Marketing Recap

star wars last jedi poster 9For the third time in as many years, Disney/Lucasfilm are bringing Star Wars to theaters just in time for the holidays. After successfully reintroducing the franchise with 2015’s The Force Awakens, we took a detour away from the core “Saga” that has been the focus of the movies to date in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Now we’re back to the story of the Jedi and the fight against the powers of darkness in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The story picks up right where The Force Awakens left off, as Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds the self-exiled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who she hopes will help her learn who she is and what her destiny might be. Meanwhile, The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) continues its fight against the ascendant First Order, ruled by the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) and Finn (John Boyega) along with Chewbacca and a bunch of porgs keep fighting the good fight while Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) continues to emote across the entire galaxy while trying not to be the Diet Coke of evil.

With so much Star Wars hype and promotion over the last three years, the franchise lately has never seemed far out of reach. To sell The Last Jedi effectively and forcefully, Disney has worked hard to make sure the campaign sells a compelling and unique product to the audience.

Continue reading “Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Marketing Recap”

Detroit – Marketing Recap

detroit poster 2Summer is usually when studios put out movies that don’t challenge audiences all that intensely. People want to be entertained, not lectured to. Dunkirk challenged that a couple weeks ago and now Detroit seeks to do likewise, only more so.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the movie stars John Boyega and others in a story based on the true events that took place in the titular city 50 years ago. Specifically, it’s focused on the raid by police of the Algiers Motel in Detroit and the subsequent death of three black men and the severe beatings of other men and women. That raid took place during protests and riots by black citizens in the city that emerged following an earlier confrontation and was followed by continued unrest that culminated in the National Guard and other military elements being sent in. What precisely happened in the Algiers was never made entirely clear and, just as is too common today, subsequent trials exonerated the officers involved.

The Posters

detroit pic 1The first poster employs a tactic that’s being used more and more, that of shifting the perspective to show an image that is actually a landscape that’s turned on its side to be in portrait format. Some of the copy is oriented for portrait but the main photo of cops holding back a group of protestors and the title are both landscape. The photo is a bit beaten up like it’s been handled and stored for decades and is worn. It’s pretty effective at establishing the setting and story without giving away too much. “It’s time we knew” is the copy that tells us we’re getting some story we likely aren’t aware of.

A second poster uses the same portrait orientation for the title while placing four close-up shots of members of the main cast in quad format around the poster. Again, the appeal is made that this comes from the director of Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker and is based on a shocking and “terrifying” true story of a time in America’s recent history.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with actual news footage from the 1967 violence that gripped the city. So we hear about the snipers that have everyone on edge and other actions. We meet Melvin, a security guard who’s just trying to do his job and keep things peaceful before cutting to a bus load of citizens who decide to hole up at a local motel until things calm down. Things begin to escalate when someone pulls a prank involving a starter pistol that no one outside knows is fake. So the police and national guard that are in the city raid the hotel and start looking for the gun. That brings everyone together as the burnt out military just wants answers, Melvin wants everyone to survive and the violence everywhere escalates.

It’s an incredibly effective and terrifying trailer that shows the historical context for the story and the very personal perspective we will be asked to follow. Boyega looks great as the cop who just wants to keep the peace and do his job. The violence keeps ramping up further and further and this looks like a gripping story.

As the second trailer opens we see Melvin is being questioned by the police about the events of the dramatic night. He recounts what he knows from his involvement as a security guard but it turns out the police have it in mind to pin at least some of the deaths at the hotel on him. It’s then the trailer pans out to set the historical context of what happened in the city as a whole and in the hotel where everything went down.

I kind of dig how this one takes a more personal approach to the story. It’s not just about the city, it’s about *this* guy and what happened to him and what he saw. That makes sense both from the point of view of connecting the audience very personally with the story and because hey, why not put Boyega front and center for at least part of the campaign, right?

Online and Social

When you load the official website it’s clear the site is built on Tumblr from the way content is laid out. The trailer starts playing in one of the tiles at the top of the page, with another letting you play a video that intercuts footage from the movie with an interview with a number of people who lived through the events depicted and the filmmakers.

Keep scrolling down the page and you’ll encounter a number of other photos from both the film and the news of the time. You can sort which ones you’d like to see by choosing either “Film” or “1967. The “Trailer” will play the final trailer for you.

Most importantly, more of the interviews can be found in “True Stories,” which gives you the same one seen at the top of the page as well as a second with more memories and insights.

The bottom of the page has links to the movie’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV advertising kicked off with a spot that condensed the story down to show the racial climate that will be portrayed in the movie, with shots of kids acting tough and cops getting in everyone’s faces as tensions begin to boil over.

The second trailer was used pretty extensively in social ads on Twitter and Facebook. Key art was used for outdoor billboards as well as banner and other online ads.

Media and Publicity

One aspect of the movie got particular attention, namely that it was a movie about black people that was written by a white guy. Screenwriter Mark Boal addressed that disconnect head-on, discussing how he discovered the story, the responsibility he felt to tell it, working with Bigelow again and lots more.

Boyega also was a focus of the press, where he talked about taking on this role, what it’s been like to bounce between Star Wars and other projects and other topics like how familiar he was or wasn’t with this particular part of America’s history. Boyega also did the late night talk show rounds to promote the movie there.

detroit pic

As a well-known director it was good to see Bigelow get the spotlight as well. She and co-star Anthony Mackie did their own press appearances, was interviewed about how this movie fits into her body of work that focuses on real-life action and violence and otherwise talked about doing what she could to highlight a part of history.


This is a challenging movie to sell. It’s the kind of low-profile prestige movie that doesn’t usually get big release platforms these days. Indeed, I kept having to remind myself it wasn’t a Netflix original film, something they picked up at a festival.

The campaign hasn’t shied away from some difficult topics, though, including the attitudes and behaviors of the police and military who were in or sent to Detroit to deal with the situation. Boyega’s security guard character is clearly our entry point into the story, the one we’re following and who is shown to be beholden to two viewpoints, both that of law enforcement and his identity as a black man. It’s through his eyes that we see what’s happening and how things spiral out of control.

Not only is what’s being sold an important historical lesson – especially for people like me who knew of but weren’t all that familiar with what happened there – but it’s so incredibly timely to the world we live in now. It seems like once a month a new instance emerges of police killing unarmed black men, women and children and eventually being set free. Riots and protests have popped up around the country in the last three years in response to this and while none have reached the fever pitch of Detroit 50 years ago, they’re all reminders that we have a long way to go. The marketing of Detroit never makes that connection explicitly, but it’s there in the background for anyone who’s been watching the news.